posted on August 27, 2007 19:03
Those of you who've been with CLUAS for a while may remember that I was an Adams evangeliser. I reviewed his first two solo records for these hallowed pages - Heartbreaker and Gold. These records, alongside the final Whiskeytown album Pneumonia, represented Adams at his most vibrant and vital. Acclaim was immediate and fulsome. Over time, Gold has tarnished but the other two represent an early 21st Centuty zenith in singer songwriting. The stage seemed set for Adams to achieve superstardom.
Except things have not gone quite according to plan. Adams has dated famous actresses, developed a proper drug habit, fallen off stage. All the while, he’s been churning out album after album. Five official album releases later (13 unofficial releases streamed from his website) and Adams’ latest, the rather excellent Easy Tiger, has been met with a collective shoulder shrug from most music critics. Another Adams record stuffed with plaintive melodies, country-rock leanings, sad songs about sad girls…
Yet Adams has remained a big live draw. Playing two Enmore Theatre shows in a row has demonstrated his marketability here in Sydney. Having seen him play three times before, each one being a dramatic and memorable night, I was excited. The band trotted onstage in almost darkness and played in the blue hue of a few Chinese lanterns over the centre of the stage. Calls of "Turn the lights up!" started almost immediately. The crowd murmured as Adams kicked into Goodnight Rose, the lovely opener from Easy Tiger. I could not pick where Adams was standing onstage. The gloom was distracting but the band’s sound was clear, chunky and strong. Adams was in fine voice. Over the years, his voice has definitely improved. Dear John was an obvious early highlight as was Wild Flower from Gold. Intricate melodies delicately played and sung.
It’s hard to pinpoint where it all went horribly wrong. I could point at the band which seemed to play at the same intensity all evening. That’s not to say that weren’t competent. Just that without light or a focal point on stage, the music was found lacking. And there were too many samey guitar licks. It could have been that Adams let Neal Casal, his lead guitarist, interact with the audience. Adams’ only outburst was to admonish us for "not knowing how to act" as the band took an early intermission. That legendary stroppiness was there in spades. Maybe it was because he played lots of new or obscure songs and the lack of familiarity grated on those of us who know that he has many classics in his back catalogue.
Maybe the effort that Adams clearly demands of his audience is not repaid with interest by him and his band. It was obvious that the calls from the crowd resulted in a set change – did we deserve to be punished? Does this sound familiar?
Even faced with what was clearly a below par gig, the Adams apologists were immediately out en masse. Under the byline ‘Seems Like the Greater They Are, the More You Have to Like It or Lump It’, the Sydney Morning Herald’s chief music critic Bernard Zuel reckoned the show had been Dylanesque in its wilful awkwardness but that it had moments of brilliance. Whilst the article is mostly piffle, does he have the nugget of a good point there?
The debate on this Adams Blog sheds further light on what was an infuriating night. Is an artist being disrespectful to the paying public by being difficult and awkward? Can these recent awful Adams and Rice gigs be attributed to Dylan’s behaviour on his Never Ending tour?